The Pittsburgh Pirates Best Outfield Does Not Include Andrew McCutchen
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a very strong outfield, possibly the best in all of baseball. However, their best outfield no longer includes former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen.
For two or three seasons now people have been buzzing about the possibility of the Pittsburgh Pirates having the best outfield in baseball. This was very understandable as the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield consisted of a former National League MVP in Andrew McCutchen, a budding star and defensive wizard in Starling Marte, and one of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball in Gregory Polanco. This was the season that people really expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to begin to have the best outfield in baseball, and one can argue that has happened.
While it is not surprising that a strong argument can be made that the Pittsburgh Pirates have the best outfield in baseball, what is surprising is who comprises that outfield. While many expected that outfield to be Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco, it is not. This is because the Pittsburgh Pirates best possible outfield is Gregory Polanco in left field, Starling Marte in center field, and Matt Joyce in right field.
There are a a few different reasons why this is the best possible outfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the biggest reason being the struggles of Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen has been one of the five best players in all of Major League Baseball the past four seasons. However, his 2016 campaign has been by far the worst of his career.
In fact, McCutchen’s 2016 campaign has been so poor that he has been a below average league hitter this season. McCutchen currently has a .316 on-base percentage, .310 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 96. All of these numbers are below league average, and his .238 batting average is miserable as well. McCutchen is also striking out at an alarming rate of 25.3 percent this season, and his 77 strikeouts are among the 10 most in the NL.
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Andrew McCutchen is also having a poor season defensively in 2016. While McCutchen’s defense has been slipping for the Pittsburgh Pirates over the course of the past few seasons, it has hit rock bottom in 2016. Through his first 68 games of the season McCutchen has a -2.2 dWAR, -5 defensive runs saved, and a -8.1 UZR/150. Ouch.
When you look at Andrew McCutchen’s numbers, both offensively and defensively, he is well behind each of the Pittsburgh Pirates other top three outfielders Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Matt Joyce. For these reasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates best outfield does not include Andrew McCutchen. And, to be totally honest, that is a very tough pill to swallow.
Even though Andrew McCutchen has struggled immensely, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have certainly picked up their ends in terms of giving the Pittsburgh Pirates the best outfield in baseball. This season Marte is slashing .331/.373/.498/.871 with a .373 wOBA, and a 138 wRC+, all of these numbers are new career highs for Marte. Also, Marte’s .331 batting average and 20 stolen bases are second most in the National League.
Starling Marte, who won the first of many career Gold Gloves last season, is also turning in another brilliant season in the field. Marte has a 3.0 dWAR so far this season, to go along with eight defensive runs saved and a 17.2 UZR/150 in the outfield. Starling Marte also leads the National League in otufield assists with eight. All of this has culminated in Marte having a 2.9 WAR so far, putting him on pace to surpass his career high of 4.8 in 2013.
While Starling Marte has probably been the Pittsburgh Pirates best all-around player this season, the team’s best hitter has been right fielder Gregory Polanco. Polanco has a 12.4 percent walk rate that has culminated in a .379 on-base percentage, a .374 wOBA, 139 wRC+, nine stolen bases, and a National League leading 23 doubles. Also, Polanco’s .215 ISO and .510 slugging percentage are both in the top ten in he league.
Like Marte, Polanco has also been an above average defender for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. Polanco currently has a 3.3 dWAR, six outfield assists, five defensive runs saved, and a 16.4 UZR/150 in the outfield this season. As a result, Polanco currently has a 2.6 WAR which is already a new career high.
The biggest surprise, well pleasant one that is, in the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield has been veteran left-handed hitter Matt Joyce. Last season Joyce posted a .255 wOBA, 62 wRC+. and -1.1 WAR in 93 games played for the Angels. As a result, the Angels released Joyce in the offseason.
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Matt Joyce to be their fourth outfield the day before Spring Training. Some people, myself included, were skeptical of this move wondering Joyce had anything left in the tank. Well, Matt Joyce has shown he has plenty left in the tank and has proven all of us that were skeptical wrong.
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So far in 2016 Matt Joyce has 117 plate appearances, and he is having the best season of his Major League career. Matt Joyce is currently slashing .292/.419/.594/1.013 to go along with a .425 wOBA and a 174 wRC+, all of these numbers are career highs for Joyce. Matt Joyce also has a career best 17.1 percent walk rate, and his .594 slugging percentage is the best in the National League.
Defensively Matt Joyce has been far from the level of Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco, but he has still been better than Andrew McCutchen. Joyce’s -3 defensive runs saved leaves a lot to be desired, but it is still an improvement over McCutchen’s -5. Also, Joyce’s DRS in right field, where he would play, is zero. So, league average. Furthermore, Starling Marte is a far superior centerfielder to McCutchen so having him in center and Polanco in left field would improve the outfield defense.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently 34-37 overall, third place in the National League Central, and four games out of the National League’s final postseason spot. For these reasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates desperately need to field the best defense and lineup possible right now. That best possible defense and lineup are ones that does not include Andrew McCutchen.
As I said above, this is a tough pill for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans to swallow. And I’m not even necessarily saying McCutchen needs benched everyday. However, especially against right-handed pitching, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to use an outfield of Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, and Matt Joyce more often because that outfield very well might be the best in baseball.